In January 2020, Ethical Consumer searched the Sainsbury's website for information on the company's cotton sourcing policy. A number of cotton products on sale were not certified organic or Fairtrade. Sainsbury's was said to be a member of the Better Cotton Initiative.

A press release dated to August 2017 and titled 'Making sustainable cotton part of our fabric' stated: 'Sainsbury’s has joined other leading fashion brands in committing to using 100% sustainable cotton by 2025.' The company was said to have signed up to the Sustainable Cotton Communique´. A press release on the Fairtrade website stated that the communiqué defined 'sustainable' as, 'Organic, Fairtrade, Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), Cotton Made in Africa and recycled cotton certified to an independently verifiable standard such as the Global Recycled Standard (GRS) or the Recycled Claim Standard (RCS)'.

The Sainsbury's 2019 Values Update stated, "68% of our cotton certified to international sustainability standards, up from 61 per cent in 2017/18, working with the Better Cotton Initiative (2020 target: 100 per cent)"

Not all of Sainsbury's cotton was certified. It lost marks under the following categories: Workers Rights, Pollution & Toxics, Controversial Technology:

According to Anti-Slavery international (ASI) website viewed by Ethical Consumer in August 2018, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan were two of the world’s largest exporters of cotton, and every year their governments forcibly mobilised over one million citizens to grow and harvest cotton. Due to the high proportion of cotton likely to have come from Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and the prevalence of forced labour in its production, the company lost half a mark in the Workers Rights category.

The Organic Trade Association website, www.ota.com, stated in July 2018 that cotton covered roughly 2.78% of global arable land, but accounted for 12.34% of all insecticide sales and 3.94% of herbicide sales. Due to the impacts of the widespread use of pesticides in cotton production worldwide the company also lost half a mark in the Pollution & Toxics category.

According to the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications (ISAAA), a non-profit pro biotech organisation, genetically modified cotton accounted for 80% of cotton grown in 2017. Due to the prevalence of GM cotton in cotton supply chains and the lack of any evidence that the company avoided it, it was assumed that some of the company's cotton products contained some GM material. As a result it lost half a mark under the Controversial Technology category.

Reference:

Values update 2019 (2 January 2020)

In October 2019, Ethical Consumer searched the Sainsbury's website for information on the company's GMO policy. Its Sustainability Sugar Cane, Prawn, Floral and Tea Standards included the criteria, 'No GMO are to be used in line with the Sainsbury's GMO Policy'. However, the supermarket's GMO policy itself could not be found. Sainsbury's groceries website was found to sell KTC Vegetable Oil, which was produced from genetically modified soya.

Ethical Consumer noted that the company sold meat and dairy not labelled organic, therefore it was likely to be from animals fed a genetically modified diet. In June 2017 the British government website www.food.gov.uk stated that the EU animal feed industry imported 70% of its maize, soya and rapeseed requirements; that "almost all" of the soya from the major producers Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and the USA was genetically modified and that "much of" the maize imported from the USA was genetically modified.

Although the company appeared to ban GMO crops for its own-brand products, no policy could be found excluding the use of GMO animal feed. As it also sold products known to contain GMO soya, it lost half a mark in the Controversial Technologies category.

Reference:

Sainsbury's corporate website (22 October 2019)

In December 2017 Ethical Consumer viewed the British Bankers' Association (BBA) website, www.bba.org.uk, for its membership list. Sainsbury's Bank plc was listed as a member. The BBA was a trade association for the UK banking and financial services sector and was considered by Ethical Consumer to have lobbied against effective banking regulation in the UK and the EU. In particular it had been opposed to an effective retail and investment banking split, which campaigners argued was essential to protect the economy from further banking collapses.

As of August 2018 this story has been marked as Information Only as the BBA had been merged into a new organsation called UK Finance, and their policies were less clear.

Reference:

Member List (2017)

In July 2020 Ethical Consumer viewed the Sainsbury's Annual Report 2020 which contained information on director remuneration, which it termed emolument.

It indicated that one director was paid over £1million in the year 2019, an annual salary which Ethical Consumer deemed excessive. The highest paid recieved emoluments and share-based payments totalling £1.7m.

The company lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

Sainsbury's corporate website (22 October 2019)

In October 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed the Sainsbury's Annual Report 2019 which contained information on director remuneration.

It indicated that three directors were paid over £1million in the year 2018/19, an annual salary which Ethical Consumer deemed excessive. These were:
Mike Coupe - £3,881,000
Kevin O’Byrne - £2,233,000
John Rogers - 2,527,000

The company lost half a mark under Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

AR 2019 (2019)

Pirc, a shareholders advisory group, and Manifest, a proxy voting agency, had both raised concerns about excessive remuneration for supermarkets' chief executives, according to an article published on 5 July 2015 on the Guardian website. Similar shareholder protests had hit all the main supermarkets at their recent annual shareholder meetings.
Pirc urged Sainsbury's shareholders to vote against the company's proposed remuneration policy, which would pay its chief executive £1.5m for 2014-15 – considered excessive compared to an average Sainsbury's employee's earnings. Pirc also flagged the arrangements for the termination of the previous incumbent who left the company in June 2015. Although the ex-chief executive had waived a cash severance payment of up to £1.7m, he had held on to long-term share awards.
Manifest had calculated that this could amount to 211% of his former salary, or £1.9m and said Sainsbury’s should have made clear the potential total payout and put a limit on payments at the time of his departure.
Low pay campaigners from ShareAction and Citizens UK had also targeted Sainsbury's to urge the retailer to pay its staff at least the living wage of £7.85 per hour or £9.15 in London.
Sainsbury's lost half a mark under both Workers' Rights and Anti-Social Finance.

Reference:

Sainsbury's and M&S under fire over executive and staff pay disparity (5 July 2015)

In October 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed Sainsbury's list of subsidiaries in its 2019 Annual Report. No 2020 report was available when searched in July 2020. The 2019 report showed that the company had a number of subsidiaries in jurisdictions considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens at the time of writing. Of these, two were considered to be high risk company types for likely use of tax avoidance:

- JS Insurance Limited in Isle of Man
- Quarternate Holdings Limited in Jersey

In August 2019 Ethical Consumer had received an email from Sainsbury's regarding its tax policy. It stated:

“We are the UK’s seventh largest taxpayer, contributing £2.3 billion in taxes borne and collected in the UK last year. Our underlying tax rate was 23.8%, above the UK corporation tax rate of 19%."

"Further information for your background
- The vast majority of our business is in the UK, which is why we do not break out financial information on a country-by-country basis".

Although the company stated that it paid over the underlying tax rate, it did not explain the need for the above subsidiaries in juristictions considered by Ethical Consumer to be tax havens at the time of writing.

Given that Sainsbury had two high risk subsidiaries in jurisdictions on Ethical Consumer's tax haven list and it published no country-by-country financial information, the company received Ethical Consumer's worst rating for likely use of tax avoidance strategies.

Reference:

AR 2019 (2019)